Tuesday, 1 November 2011

What can the marshmallow test tell us about the marketing of mobile phone contracts?

People often remark that buying into the latest technology now provides better value for money. Now old tech has certainly become more affordable. Televisions and CD players can all be bought for a fraction of what they cost 20 years ago. But these don't come under the same bracket as the latest and greatest must have new gadgets.

Gaming has supposedly become more affordable than ever. Or has it? Lets compare the launch price of some consoles from 1990-2007.

Prices corrected for inflation until 2009 using http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/ 

After correcting for inflation, prices have actually remained relatively static and appear to fluctuate as a console embraces a significant new technology. For example, CD based systems show a spike as do those that were early adopters of Blu-Ray. I appreciate that this doesn't take into account how prices change over a consoles lifetime, but it gives a better measure of how much cash someone would have to part with if they wanted the latest bit of kit.

If you apply a linear trend line to this data, you also find that there has actually been a gradual increase in the cost.  On the plus side, buying a console today means you also inherit a DVD and/or Blu-Ray player so a increase in cost can easily be justified.

Yet software often drives hardware and I don't need a graph to illustrate that video games have actually become cheaper and represent better value for money than they did 20 years ago. It is a myth that gaming has become more expensive and that's before you include downloadable games that cost considerable less than physical media. Prices and availability are also made clear from the outset. It is easy enough to check how much games will cost before choosing a console. This seems fair to me. If you want this, pay x up front and if you want more here is what it will cost you. Anyone can make an informed decision quickly. 

Unfortunately for consumers, some areas of everyday technology have become a confusing and somewhat delayed expense that offers comparatively poor value for money. Nowhere has this become more prevalent than in the marketing and selling of mobile phone contracts. 

Phones are often free at the point of sale, but data costs and a lack of contract flexibility are pushing up the total end price. The average contract has become longer and that's fine if it reflects good value for money. It doesn't. Customers are often tricked into paying for data plans they will never use simply to get a free phone. These data plans also don't take into account that 3G reception in the UK is far from perfect.  This coupled with a lack of decent competition from the mobile networks means that customers are stuck paying for something that results in a net loss.

It's a nice bit of marketing. The customer probably feels like they are getting a better deal at the time and  will leave the shop feeling happy. The truth is that they will either not use most of their data allowance or be unable to do so due to network limitations. This is before you get into the large percentage of phones that are easily damaged or stolen. Many of us are walking around with something that costs more than a games console, but remains extremely fragile and rarely insured.

I'm sure there are several experiments hidden in this. Find out peoples' actual mobile phone usage and then see what deal they are most likely to plump for off the bat. Odds are that most people opt for a deal that far exceeds their actual data usage, but gives them a nice new free phone up front. This clearly happens all the time, but I wonder what individual factors might account for those who opt for the big early reward or wait and save money further down the line? 

I would also love to see a measure of how much data use peaks when an individual purchases a new phone and measure how many weeks it takes for data use to settle down to an average that is practically zero. Like games consoles, smart phones are a considerable advancement from what we had 20 years ago, but mobile operators should be more upfront with their costs. Their should be a total contract cost next to each monthly tariff. Customers would then be able to compare deals directly without a calcualtor. It would quickly become apparant what deal offeres the best value in the long run. Network operators should also make it clear to customers what their average data usage has looked like over the previous year.

Of course, maybe that would make no difference. Those who see the free phone as the main pull are likley to ignore this and forfeit any long term gain. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Call for papers: Changing the World - A conference for early career researchers at Glasgow University. 7th November 2011

Open call for papers and posters

The aim of this conference is to facilitate discussion and raise awareness of the wide variety of research going on at Glasgow. Those presenting will gain valuable experience in communicating their work to a non-expert audience. Fingers crossed this may even result in some new friendships and new collaborations.

Other universities already host local conferences like this and we felt that it was about time Glasgow had a similar event.

Postgraduates and post-docs based at Glasgow University are invited to submit empirical and theoretical papers from across the full spectrum of science and the humanities . We would particularly encourage contributions that reflect on the impact your work may have, even if you are at an early stage of your research.

This event is supported by Vitae (http://www.vitae.ac.uk/), Glasgow University Postgraduates Society and a Glasgow University Research Initiatives Grant.

For further details contact David Ellis (d.ellis@psy.gla.ac.uk<mailto:d.ellis@psy.gla.ac.uk>) or Michael Comerford (comerm@dcs.gla.ac.uk<mailto:comerm@dcs.gla.ac.uk>)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Do I actually own this now? A few points on societies relationship with physical media

Vinyl sales have increased by a *whopping 55% this year

Collecting vinyl brings with it a whole new collection of problems. Dust, interference, cartridge replacement and the calibration of a record table are the historical equivalent of buying a decent pair of headphones to go with your new iPhone. 

So are we seeing a split between consumers who are sticking with the physical and shun the digital? 

Well, no. Vinyl remains a niche format, but it nevertheless refuses to go away. What interestes me however, are the potential changes in peoples' listening habits as they gradually move away from physical to invisible digital formats. For example, are people connecting with music emotionally in the same way that my parents generation supposedly did? 

Records typically force the listener to sit down and pay attention to the music. You can't skip tracks without getting up and the album becomes more like a novel. As an undergraduate who completely ran out of money on several occasions, I was forced to sell some prize possessions, but one thing that I refused to let go of was my meagre record collection. Presumably this reluctance hints at a deeper level of attachment! 

Digital media on the other hand, allows music to become a soundtrack rather than an experience in itself. Decent headphones certainly improve the experience, but given the limitations of human attention, I can't help but feel that the record and the humble hi-fi provide an experience that goes beyond the iPod.

So can any physical format survive another 20 years? 

Teenagers are soon going to grow up without ever having to buy books, music or film as a physical entity so presumably they are all doomed. The reality is that this simply isn't happening. Yes, CD sales are down, but not everyone appears to want the convenience of Spotify or iTunes even if they have been brought up knowing little else. Vinyl is the most inconvenient thing on the planet yet it's increased sales are fuelled by those in their late teens and mid-20s.

So will there always be a place for the physical format? 

I have no idea. I hope so. At least until we get to the stage where brain implants can pipe 7.1 channels of sound into my auditory cortex. It's difficult to see a time in the near future where CD's and DVD's will disappear completely. Backwards compatibility with Blu-Ray players has almost certainly helped secure their short term future.

The future of digital delivery is going to depend on the internet's ability to stream the next generation of content. If quadruple high-definition becomes a reality, it's difficult to see how anything but a physical format will be able to deliver that content reliably until everyone is experiencing a faster internet service.

Of course some formats have completely disappeared. When was the last time you saw an audio cassette for example? The novelty factor here completely out weights the inconvenience. But in 50 years time, will people still buy classic petrol cars when a cheaper and more efficient alternative is readily available? Probably.

As cloud computing becomes a reality, it's reassuring to know that some things don't actually change that quickly. Despite their technological limitations and huge inconvenience, people see something in being able to hold their CD, their LP, or their book in their hand. The central idea of ownership becomes rather blurred when everything is held on a virtual cloud and I'm not sure that everyone is ready or comfortable with the idea of an empty bookcase. Not yet anyway. 

Maybe the idea of an empty bookcase is something I will just have to get used to, but if I do digitize everything, I can always turn my records into abstract art.

*Note: This figure doesn't include the second hand market. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Can Twitter Change Your Life?

In the beginning, I had an inactive Twitter account. Now I have some followers and sometimes worry that I have nothing interesting to say. Does Twitter help me with anything or just delay everything?

In other words, can regular Twitter use help focus the mind and improve other aspects of cognition? This might seem like a bit of a long shot, but there is some evidence to suggest that journaling or diary keeping can help aid decision-making and reduce stress. However, Twitter is a very different beast, not least because it involves 140 characters and social interaction.

A second question. Could the use of social media cause intellectual harm? If there is a positive effect on thinking and communicating, can this be reversed by excessive use? Given the growing number of people who actively engage with some form of social media, the issue probably merits further investigation. 

Wouldn't it be nice if all that time spent on Twitter wasn't just helping people network and share ideas, but also raised their IQ by a couple of points too!

The possibility remains that regular Twitter use may have absolutely no effect on an individual’s personality, cognition or subsequent behavior. Anecdotally however, people always tell me how all that time spent on Twitter was really productive and thought provoking. This may well be true, but it's also a symptom of cognitive dissonance

As for me, I am undecided, but if anyone is interested in researching this issue further, please get in touch.